Catholic Exchange: When Life Feels Like a Raging Storm

There are periods in our lives that feel like a raging storm. The winds swirl up at high speeds, the clouds darken to a night sky mid-day, and rain pours down. The torrential downpour comes in unrelenting waves and we feel like St. Peter standing in the boat staring in fear and awe at Our Lord walking on the waves.

Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-36

During periods of trial, it can be easy to stand paralyzed by the storm. We can begin to focus on the crashing waves, the wind blowing so hard we can barely stand, or to shake violently in the freezing rain. In this passage from St. Matthew, the boat was beaten by the waves from the wind, but often the storms in our lives can feel like a hurricane. Suffering, pain, anguish, affliction, and struggles in this life are meant to strengthen us, but most of us battle immense weakness in the face hardships. These are periods that can be marked by doubt, fear, anger, anxiety, mistrust, and a deep desire to flee. So, what are we to do?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: What Will We Give Jesus for His Birthday?

We are now in the final days of Advent. These last days are a good time to fully prepare ourselves for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas. If we have not taken the time to enter into prayerful quiet, now is a good time to do so. If we do not enter into the preparation of Advent, there is a good chance we will miss the true joy of Christmas, because we will not have taken the time to prepare our hearts fully for the coming of Our Savior. A couple of weeks ago, my parish priest asked us a question in order to help us prepare for Christmas. He asked, “What are we going to give Jesus for His birthday?” Ever since Father spoke these words, they have been on my mind. What am I going to give Jesus for His birthday?

Whose birthday is it anyway?

To be honest, it is such a simple question, that it is often lost on us; this includes me. Often, we end up making this one of the busiest and most material times of the year. As parents, my husband and I have tried to cut back on the material and busy sides of Advent and Christmas. We spent one too many Christmases with family and friends watching kids tear into far too many gifts only to cast them aside. The desire for more, more, more was all over their faces. More of what, exactly? Things that can never in principle make them truly happy? We realized early on that we cannot hope to teach our daughter holiness if Christmas is seen as an accumulation of large quantities of stuff. We cut back to three gifts from us, which represent the gifts of the Magi. All other gifts are from grandparents and other family. Even then, it has been difficult to maintain temperance in this regard because my husband and I are rather counter-cultural in this approach.

Our reason for this refocus is because it is very easy in our culture to focus on the material aspects of Christmas. We are inundated with the idea that buying the “perfect” gift will achieve happiness for our loved ones or ourselves. Advertising campaigns have even switched to telling us that we “deserve to buy ourselves the perfect gift this Christmas.” We hear this on the radio, see it on TV, and we are bombarded whenever we walk into a store this time of year. I notice a tendency in my own daughter to want stuff and lots of it. Of course, hours or days later she will cast aside this item she had to have since it has served its temporary purpose. I have been asking God how to temperately celebrate His birth in a manner that is a balance between merriment, cheer, self-emptying love, virtuous living, and a focus on Him. Then came Father’s question to all of us, to me.

In the Latin Rite, we can easily forget that Advent is a penitential season. It is not as strict as Lent and often the penitential aspects are not mentioned, but for all intents and purposes, Advent is penitential. We are told to prepare for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas and in the Parousia. If Christ came again in the Second Coming at this very moment, would we be prepared? We are called to constantly prepare our hearts for His coming. This is a call to grow in holiness, to deepen our prayer lives, frequent the sacraments, and to consider those areas where vice rules over virtue. The Catholic understanding is not that we have to be merely “good people”. That idea comes from the post-modern heresy of moral therapeutic deism. We are called to be saints, not “good people”. In Lent, we consider something to give up to grow in holiness to prepare for the great mysteries of Holy Week. In that same vein: What is it we are going to give Our Lord and Savior at Christmas?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Miscarriage Grief: No We Aren’t Going Crazy

Grief is an arduous journey for all of us to walk. It is also a process we have very little control over and we have no choice but to walk it; often only relying in trust and hope that God walks beside us. Grief is a lot like being in a dingy in the ocean. The shore is somewhere off the port side, but we can’t see it. It’s foggy and dark and all we feel are the enormous swells. When periods of peace do come, they are often not serenity, but numbness. In fact, we may have days, weeks, months, years of numbness and then some trigger will pierce through and torrents of tears fall once again.

I have been in a period of numbness for a couple of weeks. Once the miscarriage finally ended the initial intensity subsided and the numbness set in. The miscarriage itself stopped and started over a period of 2.5 weeks, prolonging the initial agony. It now seems to have completed and the numbing–somewhat zombie like–period has begun. I started to wonder why I couldn’t seem to cry. I cried for days in the beginning, but then I couldn’t cry anymore and the ache turned to emotionless nothingness. This numbness is often worse than the intense suffering. Numbness leaves me wanting to reach out, but I can’t seem to grasp anything solid.

The numbness lifted temporary in the last few days. The tears began anew. Every mother and father grieving a child lost in miscarriage has different triggers. In the past, an infant Baptism at Mass would reduce me to a blubbering mess. I battled mightily in my first three miscarriages with the pain caused by my inability to baptize my babies before they died. Years of theological study and my trust in God’s mercy finally lifted that burden. Through the direction of different priests  and theologians, I was guided to a place of trust, even if I lacked solid answers. God assuaged the pain I felt because my babies died unbaptized.

This time the trigger is toddler and infant boys. My husband and I believe our most recent loss was a son, Andrew Thomas. Named for St. Andrew and my hero St. Thomas Aquinas. This past weekend, I once again returned to tears after attending Mass where five male altar servers served with great reverence in the more traditional cassock and surplice. This is such a rarity in my Diocese that the beauty from seeing it alone would have reduced me to tears. Instead, watching the youngest boy serve with the teenage boys reminded me of how much I miss my sons Andrew and Caleb.

The youngest boy serving must have been 7 or 8. He clearly had just received his first Holy Communion this year and the teenage boys towered over him, but they treated him with great care and guided him through the Mass. This young boy followed the great dance of the Liturgy (no I didn’t say liturgical dance….shudders) beautifully. His reverence and attention were remarkable in one so young. He did just as well as the older boys.

The second time I ached for my children was while we were at a park. My family and I went camping this past weekend. On our way home, we stopped at a park so our daughter could play. There was a little boy toddling around the playground. He clearly had only been walking for a short time. He was trying to keep up with the rest of the children playing around him. He was adorable.

My husband and I sat watching our daughter and the other kids play while we discussed adoption. We greatly desire more children, but it does not seem to be God’s will that they come from us. We have been contemplating adoption for over a year, but we are taking our time discerning when to put in our application. We want to make sure we make a clear-headed decision because we are grieving so deeply at this time.

Adoption is a long, invasive, and difficult process. We have four adopted nephews, so we know it is a rough process. It is also extremely expensive. It will cost us $15,000-25,000. Yes, you read that right. That’s for a domestic adoption. We have already been through orientation at our local Catholic Charities, so our decision will be made understanding that we will have to cut back tremendously, save a lot of money, and probably stay in our current home for a few more years rather than buy our dream home, which is a small farm. It’s a matter of choosing greater goods, and a human being is always a greater good. Pray for us as we discern God’s path for us.

Grief is a long process and it never fully goes away. There is always that slight prick whenever the lost person or persons is remembered. The ache to hold my children will never fully dissipate until, Lord willing, I meet them in Heaven. My daughter’s loneliness serves as a reminder that I have not been able to give her a sibling. And I even battle the pain that my writing has expanded to wider audiences because of my suffering. Writers often expand their audience because they are willing to enter into suffering. I would give up writing another word to have my children back, but that isn’t possible. Instead, it appears that for reasons not entirely clear to me, God has called me to bring attention to the miscarriage-abortion connection. Doors keep opening that I never imagined or thought possible, even as I sit in my dingy off the shore.

If like me, you are journeying through grief, you may have moments when you feel like you are going crazy. It seems like small things set you off and torrents of tears come streaming, even in public. There may be times the sobbing is uncontrollable and the wound that seemed to heal ever so slightly is gaping wide open once again. This is a part of grief. The senses are how we understand the world around us, which means our senses will trigger memories. Seeing a baby, hearing their laughter or cries, or any other type of sensory response can remind us of the lost child we miss so deeply. All we can do is ask for God to walk with us during this time of intense suffering. We have to hope that good will come of all of this, even if we don’t understand it on this side of eternity. Know that I am praying for all of you grieving. I know that I am not alone in my pain and so you remain in my thoughts and prayers. Pax Christi.

Turning to Mary and Trusting When It’s Hard

Trust is constantly on my mind these days. My husband and I found out that I am pregnant. Anyone who has read my previous work for Catholic Exchange knows that I have had three miscarriages and spent 3.5 years afflicted with post-partum depression and anxiety. The doctors know why I had miscarriages and my Catholic NaPro doctor told me three years ago that she could possibly help us have another successful pregnancy. In the meantime, she was able to begin treating my severe hormone deficiencies.

At that time, I had just suffered my third and most traumatic loss which resulted in emergency surgery. The post-partum that had developed 10 weeks after I gave birth to my daughter, deepened after each loss. That was not the time for another child. My husband and I knew that God wanted us to heal and walk the Cross of post-partum depression. My body also needed major healing after all it had been through. We didn’t know when the post-partum would lift and we knew the risk of me getting it after another pregnancy was high. Thankfully, NaPro offers a post-partum depression progesterone treatment that has helped a lot of women.

After that difficult time, we didn’t know or think we would have any more children, but God’s ways are not our own. It would have been imprudent to try and I wrote about the need for prudence in such decisions. God calls each one of our families to a different path to holiness and we cannot compare our situation to the person sitting next to us in the pew because we have no idea what they are going through, can handle, or what God is asking of them. Being judgmental is a sin for a reason and it stems from the destructive sin of pride. But, God is also not done with any of us. Crosses lift, evolve, or take a new shape. Old Crosses disappear and new ones take their place. In all of these we are called to trust.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Trust, History, and the Synod on the Family

The Synod on the Family is is in full swing, so I thought I would again share this article that I wrote at Catholic Exchange about Church history and trust. I assure you this is not the worst period in the Church’s history. It is not exhaustive because no article ever is, but it gives a good outline of how the Church operates and what she has overcome. In everything we trust in the Holy Spirit. Here it is:

Next month the second part of the Synod on the Family will commence in Rome. Articles, theories, and concerns have been flying around social media for over a year now. Discussion on the Synod is a good thing and should be encouraged. What I have seen in many circles however, is a sense of foreboding that betrays a fear of a change in doctrine that runs completely counter to what we understand the Catholic Church to be. That foreboding is met with glee in many circles who are touting the Church will get with the times and completely revamp 2000 years of moral law in order to please the Zeitgeist of our own age. Both are wrong and neither understands how the Church operates.

First, let’s remember that the Church is not a human institution at her ontological level. Yes, on the outside she looks like an institutional structure, complete with a hierarchy, and extensive array of offices with the Pope at the head. The ultimate reality, however, is that she is the Mystical Body of Christ. Her head is Christ and the Pope is subordinate to Him. Christ Himself promised that the power of Hell would not prevail against her:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. l will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:15-19

This passage from the Gospel of Matthew is often used to explain the Papacy and our understanding of Apostolic Succession. What it also tells us is that what has been revealed to Saint Peter, the Apostles, and the Church is not from earthly realities, but from the Blessed Trinity. The Church’s understanding is that the Holy Spirit will preserve the Deposit of Faith, that which is teaching on faith and morals, from error even in the presence of sinful men and sinful women. This has repeatedly played out throughout the Church’s history.

What exactly is the hierarchy doing through the Synod on the Family? She is doing what she always does, she is engaging in open dialogue in order to better understand the heresies of the day and to better express the truth in the face of those falsehood so that the Church may evangelize the world. What many people forget is that the Church has always encouraged open and honest dialogue. Just because dialogue occurs, does not mean that the Church is accepting everything that is said in councils or synods. In fact, a great many heresies have been proposed at such gatherings throughout the Church’s history. Let’s consider a few examples.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Pope Francis and the Problem of the Eldest Son

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Last week as I watched Pope Francis address Congress and our nation a thought dawned on me. Since Pope Francis’ election I have watched as certain groups within the Church and outside of the Church get themselves tied up in knots because of what he says and how he says it. These people are varied in their reasons for displeasure with our Holy Father, and some love a Pontiff who does not exist and who is a product of their own imagination. The latter are those in the mainstream media who love that he blesses and kisses babies and the disabled, but ignore his strong pronouncements on the Church’s moral teaching on abortion and “gay marriage”. There is another group entrenched in the heresy of Americanism that lashes out for what the Pope says about capitalism, without really understanding what the Pope means. Specifically, that a capitalism that uses people as a means to an end is evil; not necessarily capitalism that is rightly ordered. And finally, we have a group within the Church that greatly endangers itself by its irrationality, fall into calumny, and hardening hearts. It is this last group that I want to address in this post.

It is true that at times Pope Francis is not clear in his comments and at times it can be hard to understand precisely what he means. There have been moments early on in his Pontificate when he made comments about those serving in the pro-life movement that hurt many people. I understand. And the manipulation of his words by people inside and outside of the Church has made our mission more difficult at times. The “who am I to judge?” quote, which is taken entirely out of context by so many, has been thrown in most of our faces when it comes to moral issues in the West. I get it, but I want to consider something in light of the Pope’s recent visit to the U.S.

Pope Francis does not need to really worry about those of us who grasp and try to live the Church’s moral teaching. We are sharing that truth in our families, communities, and in social media. By the light of faith and the gift of human reason, we are able to understand why the Church teaches as she does on issues that are counter-cultural. We understand why life is sacred and that every human life is endowed with dignity given by God from conception to natural death. In other words, we are not lost. We have the light of Christ leading us. Pope Francis knows that you and I will go to Scripture, the Catechism, and Church documents in order to understand and defend her truths.

Now, most of our culture is being led astray by Lucifer. They have believed his lies and now live in ignorance and with dying or dead souls. This is even more tragic when baptized Catholics persist in these lies, especially in a public manner. Pope Francis addressed some of these people in Congress and our nation throughout his various speeches. When someone has hardened their heart or grace has left them, as is the case with mortal sin (yes, that’s how serious it is), it is difficult to reach those people. In fact, stating moral law to those people who are either deceived or willfully dissenting can accomplish very little. Why?

The reason is that what these people need is grace. If their soul is dead, then they need grace to enter their lives again. If they have never experienced grace, then they need the supernatural gifts of faith and grace. This first begins in a movement from God, but then the person has to be willing to accept this gift. God does not force us to love or follow Him. He preserves our free will completely. It is true that some people return or enter the faith through learning the moral truths of the Catholic Faith. By and large, however, this is not the case. In order for conversion or reversion to occur, a person must have an encounter with the Living Christ whether it be a slower process like St. Peter or a knocked off the horse experience like St. Paul. No matter how it happens, that encounter must take place first.

With that in mind, what is Pope Francis trying to accomplish? Since he knows the orthodox are well taken care of, he is reaching out to those who have either fallen into error or who have always lived in error. It’s not that he is encouraging sin. Anyone who takes the time to follow the Holy Father’s message in its entirety knows this to be true. Rather, he is sharing the power of Christ with the world. When people see Francis’ life, they wonder where it comes from and that answer is Jesus Christ. Then people can begin to look for Jesus. In coming to know and love Jesus and through Baptism grace pours into the soul and makes it easier to come to the fullness of truth, including the moral law. In fact, it is impossible to come to the Church without faith and grace. What occurs in the supernatural life is not up to us. We are mere messengers. A fact that many seem to forget. Conversion takes time. Real conversion comes with falls along the way and many trips to the Confessional.

It is important for those of us who know the truth to avoid falling into bitterness as the eldest son did in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In fact, let’s take a quick look at that beautiful Parable:

Then he said, “A man had two sons and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

It is the last part of the this Parable that is most instructive for this particular discussion. The father says to the son: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” This is really at the heart of Pope Francis’ Papacy. He knows that we are well taken care of. The last few popes have fought the Culture of Death. Whether it agrees or not, much of our culture is aware of what the Catholic Church teaches on these issues. If we solely focus on the “culture war” we run the risk of disengaging our audience because we resort to screeching at high volume to get our point across. Instead, we need to show people to Christ, so that they can come to the truth found in the moral teaching of the Church. We can’t put the cart before the horse. A person who has been steeped in relativism is not going to understand the Church’s teachings without the light of faith and grace.

Pope Francis is not an anti-pope or threatening the Church. He is welcoming the Prodigal. He is showing people to Christ, so that the Church makes sense. We forget that we have grace and faith while the majority of people in our culture do not. The Church is foreign and they look at us with blindness. They can’t see until they see Christ. It is not that Francis is leaving us behind or leaving the faith behind. He is being a Shepherd. He is welcoming the lost into the fold, and telling the Mystical Body to rejoice when people return or join us. Just because Francis doesn’t constantly mention our favorite pet issue, does not mean he is wrong. He is leading in a way we may not fully understand, but we can trust that he is doing his best to reach out to the world and bring people to Christ. That is his job on top of leading the Church. So, let us rejoice that wounded, suffering, and lost people are looking for Christ. Let’s go to the celebration instead of sulking or living in bitterness. Praise be to God for reaching the lost. God bless.

Catholic Exchange: Trust, History, and the Synod on the Family

Next month the second part of the Synod on the Family will commence in Rome. Articles, theories, and concerns have been flying around social media for over a year now. Discussion on the Synod is a good thing and should be encouraged. What I have seen in many circles however, is a sense of foreboding that betrays a fear of a change in doctrine that runs completely counter to what we understand the Catholic Church to be. That foreboding is met with glee in many circles who are touting the Church will get with the times and completely revamp 2000 years of moral law in order to please the Zeitgeist of our own age. Both are wrong and neither understands how the Church operates.

First, let’s remember that the Church is not a human institution at her ontological level. Yes, on the outside she looks like an institutional structure, complete with a hierarchy, and extensive array of offices with the Pope at the head. The ultimate reality, however, is that she is the Mystical Body of Christ. Her head is Christ and the Pope is subordinate to Him. Christ Himself promised that the power of Hell would not prevail against her:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. l will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:15-19

This passage from the Gospel of Matthew is often used to explain the Papacy and our understanding of Apostolic Succession. What it also tells us is that what has been revealed to Saint Peter, the Apostles, and the Church is not from earthly realities, but from the Blessed Trinity. The Church’s understanding is that the Holy Spirit will preserve the Deposit of Faith, that which is teaching on faith and morals, from error even in the presence of sinful men and sinful women. This has repeatedly played out throughout the Church’s history.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…